Less than two months ago Ebac Northern League Second Division club Hebburn Town were in trouble.
Falling attendances meant they were contemplating closure.
But since launching a publicity campaign to raise their profile in the local community there has been a resurgence in crowds.
And in the next two weeks both Sunderland and Newcastle will be sending under-23 teams to their ground in Victoria Road West.
Club press officer Mick Laffey said: “Gates were dropping and our income was falling. It got to the stage where we thought we were not going to have enough money to survive to the end of the season.
“We decided that we would have a campaign to see if there was anyone in the local community who cared.
“We needed two things: people to come through the gates and support us. We also needed the help of the local business community.”
The club committee decided to launch a local publicity campaign – effectively to save the club. It had an instant, positive impact.
“Facebook and Twitter went beserk! It must have struck a chord. The Shields Gazette put the campaign on the front page and there were reports on BBC Look North and Radio Newcastle. Even the local hospital radio came along to interview us.
“We’ve been quite humbled by how many people have shown their support.
“We always try and push ourselves when asked of course, but we consistently encourage people to attend their local Northern League team if that’s not us. We’re all in this together and we have received messages from numerous other clubs wishing us well and empathising with our plight. It’s not just about us. It’s a rallying cry for the whole Northern League.
“We have a strong and relatively large committee and everyone is doing everything they can. It’s very much a team effort.”
Their last game before the campaign and appeal saw just 34 people through the gate. The highest all season before the campaign was 74.
At their first game after it started they had 281 spectators. That went up again to 452 for their next game. Apart from people in Hebburn, they had non-League fans come from other clubs – including South Shields and Heaton Stannington – as well as ground hoppers.
Their social media outlets doubled in traffic.
The club are grateful to Sunderland and Newcastle United for agreeing to field their under-23 teams at the Hebburn Sports Ground.
Laffey said: “Both clubs have been excellent. I couldn’t believe it when Peter Beardsley phoned me up. He offered to do a talk-in after the game and that’s already sold out.”
Both under-23 games are `pay on the door` and everyone is welcome.
The club is aiming for a record league attendance for their last game of the season when they take on Blyth Town. The current highest attendance for a league game is 479.
They’ve been given a helping hand by the club’s impressive junior section who jumped on board to help save the senior team straight away. They encouraged their entire membership to attend the Tow Law game and are doing the same for the Blyth Town game on April 22nd.
“They have been brilliant. It really helps to have the best junior section in the country behind you! We’ve been led out by junior teams in most games since and it’s something we’re really keen to work with them on.”
The club still faces challenges. Laffey said: “It will be crucial to keep people interested and coming back next season. More spectators mean more revenue and that means we can build a good squad and hopefully aim for the first division. The story doesn’t end here – in fact I genuinely believe the hard work is only just beginning.
“We have to be sure this isn’t a flash in the pan. We had a gate of (only!)115 for our last home game although there was a relatively important FA Vase fixture being played a few miles away at the same time.
“The key thing that has come out of all of this is communication. If people know about you, what you do and what they are missing there is a chance they will come. Then it’s about putting on a show that they will want come back and see again. It’s about investing the local community in your club and what you are trying to do.
“We had a crowdfunding page which raised over £1,500, mostly from ex-pat Hebburners, we’ve sold a load of shirts and badges, the local clubs in Hebburn have given donations, individuals have made anonymous donations, people have just given us £5s and £10s here and there. We had a sportsman’s evening with David `Supersub` Fairclough and local legendary comedian Terry `Buster` Joyce. That was a great night. The buzz around the town is very positive. People are asking how they can help and what they can do to make things easier for us. The lads and lasses from South Tyneside Toon Travel even had a whip round on the trip to Sheffield Wednesday. Again, it’s not just one or two revenue sources – it’s about everyone doing their best and every little bit of help we get is very much appreciated.
“Most of all we have to thank the players. We had to stop expenses but each and every one of them said they would stay and play anyway. That shows the team spirit we have here. Without that we would already be gone.
“We have to keep this going. I hope we haven’t just delayed the inevitable. The committee pray this is the start of our resurgence and the support we have received to date has made us all feel that this is possible”.